Although ambulances were not built by Willys or Ford as a variation of their wartime jeeps, the versatile vehicles were frequently used in the field to carry stretchers, across the hood or behind the driver. Soon they were also adapted by medical units or in the field, with stretcher racks to increase capacity and perhaps comfort.
This GPW of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC) was photographed in Vaucelles, France on 20 July 1944. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada Item 3391694.
See another RCAMC ambulance (90K JPEG) on the Moro River front south of San Leonardo di Ortona, Italy on 10 December 1943. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada Item 3314438.
By 1945 in Germany, the RCAMC had more elaborate conversions with folding canvas coverings. This Willys MB was photographed in Sonsbeck, Germany on 6 March 1945. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada Item 3397098.
Another Canadian conversion had a lower but longer rear extension allowing two stretchers behind the driver. This example is loaded onto a Buffalo tracked landing vehicle at an unidentified location on 13 April 1945. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada Item 3205259.
A similar configuration (60K JPEG) was photographed a few days later, south of Bad Zwischenahn, Germany on 29 April 1945, with Private F.J. Dunn on the hood.
This photo taken at Canadian Forces Base Borden in Ontario appears to show a postwar training exercise. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada Item 4234042.
Perhaps the most famous WWII ambulance jeeps were those used by the U.S. Marines in the Pacific, beginning at Guadalcanal.
This photo and a rear view (440K JPEG) showing the distinctive tiny rear door, are of a rare surviving example, restored by Joe Hires in 2020. (See more photos and details of this project on the page about Joe's 1959 CJ-3B.)
According to an article from the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, the "Jeep Ambulance" conversion was designed and prototyped by Lt. Cmdr. French Moore, a battalion surgeon with the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Elliott, California. The conversion is now widely known as the "Holden" ambulance because the first 200 production models were built by the General Motors-Holden factory in Melbourne, Australia. This photo shows Holdens ready in Australia in 1943.
Additional Holdens were built in the U.S. with a higher roof than the Australian conversions, as seen in this 1944 photo.
For a detailed history of the Holdens, and another restored example, see Yank Reenactment in the Netherlands. There is also a history in issue 127 of Army Motors, magazine of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association.
The 5th Marine Division landed on Iwo Jima on 19 February 1945, and were in action there until 18 March, sustaining 1,098 killed and 2,974 wounded. This photo shows two Holdens on Iwo Jima, one clearly heading for the front line, well stocked with stretchers.
Some were still in service in Korea. See a U.S. Navy photo of one being hoisted aboard ship (90K JPEG) during the evacuation of Hungnam, North Korea on 12 December 1950.
This lengthened M38 set up as an ambulance may be the prototype referred to in October 1950 by Willys Engineering Release 6396 as model MC-A. (See CJ-3B Development 1949-53 on CJ3B.info.) "MC-A" would imply an ambulance version of the M38, which was designated by Willys as the MC.
The factory photograph shows a Jeep equipped with fording snorkels, and probably in response to conditions encountered in Korea it also includes an M38 Personnel Heater Kit on the cowl.
This long-wheelbase military model CJ-4MA with the distinctive CJ-4 front end, was released to the U.S. Army in 1951 for testing as an ambulance. (See also New Universal Jeep Designs, 1949-52 on CJ3B.info.)
What was apparently the same prototype Jeep, carrying serial number CJ-4MA-01, emerged in 2004 from a barn in Kentucky.
The Willys model MD, introduced in 1952 and known by the US Army as the M38A1, was larger, lighter and more powerful than earlier Jeep designs, and became a mainstay of the US military for the next two decades. The longer-wheelbase version known as the M170 was also adopted by all branches of the service for special applications, most notably as an ambulance. Sources differ as to total production, but it appears Willys built only about 4,000 of what they referred to as model MD-A.
See also a left side view (110K JPEG) of Gary Keating's restored 1954 example.
In addition to the extra 20 inches of length, the spare tire is mounted inside the body on the passenger side, to allow stretchers to extend to the rear where the spare would normally be on a military Jeep. As a result, the unusually large passenger-side door opening is partially blocked, particularly when a jerry can is mounted in front of the spare (50K JPEG). Other unique features include interior lighting and storage compartments, and a tailgate (with holes for stretcher handles.)
Thanks to Gary Keating for the photos.
The version of the M38A1 built between 1955 and 1959 by NEKAF in the Netherlands was simply turned into an ambulance with the addition of a two-stretcher platform and extended top, rather than a lengthened wheelbase. Photo by Alf van Beem at the Nationaal Militair Museum, Soesterberg.
See also a rear view (290K JPEG) photo by Zandcee under CC.
Circular springs were used to cushion the stretchers, a system which had already been developed for CJ-3A and 3B ambulances in the Dutch Air Force.
Photo taken in Ruinerwold in 2007, courtesy Military Vehicles on Flickr.
This Willys Station Wagon owned by Jim West represents a fleet apparently bought by the government and outfitted as "litter carriers," a pretty dry generic term for ambulances. Jim says, "I understand the Army bought 1,000 civilian models of the Willys-Overland Station Wagon and converted them to military use as a test. Mine served during the Korean War, hauling flown-in wounded from Atterbury Air Force Base, Columbus, Indiana to the U. S. Army Hospital at Camp Atterbury, Edinburgh, Indiana. A distance of about 25 miles."
A close view of the data plates on the glove compartment (140K JPEG) shows that the brass government plate does not match the 1951 serial number on the silver plate. The civilian light switch on the dashboard (70K JPEG) and the 3-bar front grille also indicate a later-50's model, so this nice restoration is probably not actually the original wagon.
See also a close view of the lettering on the side (60K JPEG) applied by Jim. He comments, "The logo for Camp Atterbury is accurate. But although the Jeep served during the Korean War, I choose to add 'Wakeman General Hospital' as the hospital was named during WW2. I added the 388th unit, because I have a lot of information on that unit. It was a Korean War outfit at Camp Atterbury, so it is very possible they drove it or at least saw it."
Any additional information on Willys litter carriers used by the Army is welcome. U.S. Military Wheeled Vehicles by Fred Crismon has a photo showing the rear and interior (80K JPEG) of a litter carrier, identifying it as having been taken during testing at Ft. Knox, Indiana in 1951, but the wooden tailgate does not appear to be a Willys tailgate.
Willys did also put military olive green paint on its four-wheel-drive Willys Ambulance, built on a stripped chassis 6-226. According to the 1954 publication The Willys Story there were 40 of these produced for the military in 1953, but I have seen no other documentation or examples.
The rarest of the Forward Control Jeeps is the M679 ambulance. This photo of Pansi and Kevin Millage's M679 was taken at the 2017 FC Jamboree by Craig Brockhurst. See also a view inside the rear doors (80K JPEG).
One estimate is that 60-100 M679's were built by Kaiser in 1964 for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Most, if not all, were powered by a 3-cylinder Cerlist diesel. This M679 at Willys America was photographed by Bill Brennan.
In the Vietnam era, the M170 began to be replaced by the M718 ambulance variant of the M151 MUTT ("Multipurpose Utility Tactical Transport"). It was built by AM General beginning in 1966.
The ambulance version is 10 inches longer and 5 inches higher than the base M151, and wider due to the spare tire being side-mounted.
This photo by Ev Harless shows Dorothy Reed's M718, selected as Best M151 at the Arkansas Military Vehicle Preservation Association's 2006 show.
The Japanese-built Mitsubishi CJ3B-J4C also showed up in Vietnam in an ambulance configuration. See more details in CJ3B-J4 Military Jeeps on CJ3B.info. Photo by Ian (Max) Maxwell taken in My Tho, from the collection of the Australian War Memorial.
See also a long-wheelbase Willys CJ-3B-L as an Australian Army Ambulance on CJ3B.info.
The military ambulance version of the Kaiser Jeep M715 1-1/4 ton truck, built during 1967-68, was designated the M725, and also saw service in Vietnam. This restored M725 is at the Minnesota Military Museum.
See more details on the Kaiser M725 Ambulance on CJ3B.info.
The U.S. Air Force used an ambulance built by AM General on the J20 Jeep truck, with locking front hubs. See the four-stretcher interior (400K JPEG). Mike Lewis in Colorado has a similar 1976 J20 ambulance (200K JPEG), nicely restored but without the winch and brush bar on the front.
There was also a U.S. Navy version (220K JPEG) of this configuration.
Although the M997 (50K JPEG) version of the HMMWV became the US military's primary front line ambulance, in 2010 the Jeep military ambulance was not yet completely history. Chrysler's JGMS (Jeep Government and Military Sales) offered an ambulance variant of its overseas-built Jeep J8, not available in North America.
As of 2017 there is a smaller J8 conversion available through AADS (Africa Automotive Distribution Services) and aimed at both civilian and military buyers.
See more details in Jeep Ambulances on CJ3B.info.
Mahindra & Mahindra in India introduced their Field Ambulance in 2010, with the distinctive front grille found on some of their Jeep variations. Built using modular construction on a tubular chassis, it includes 220V AC power supply and life support equipment. It accommodates two lying and two sitting casualties, or five sitting casualties, along with an attendant's seat. Photo courtesy of Team-BHP.com.
Thanks to all the photographers, and to Paul Barry. -- Derek Redmond
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